The Argentine-born soccer player won the Golden Ball award as the best player in the 2014 World Cup, where he led his team to the finals. While Argentina ended up losing to Germany 0-1, Messi is still ranked as one of the best players in the world and the only footballer in history to win four FIFA/Ballons d’Or, given to the European player with the best performance over the previous year.
Still, while you might know him for his agility to the ball, there’s a lot more to Lionel Andrés “Leo” Messi than meets the eye. Here are 10 facts about the world’s best soccer player you might not know.
Messi’s love life is pretty quiet
Messi has been in a relationship with girlfriend Antonella Roccuzzo since 2009. In 2012, they had a child (Thiago) together. Despite rumors to the contrary, the couple has no current plans to get married.
In fact, they don’t even live in the same continent. Roccuzzo, as well as Messi’s mother and most of his family, still reside in Rosario, Argentina, where Messi was born. The footballer owns a penthouse apartment in the city where his mother lives, as well as a number of other properties – including his childhood home and a compound just outside of the city.
Messi spends most of his time in Spain, where he has a contract with FC Barcelona until 2018. His father lives there as well.
His short stature hasn’t been a hindrance to his career
Messi is known to fellow soccer players and friends as “La Pulga” (The Flea) because he’s fast and agile – two characteristics the jumpy, never-stopping flea obviously shares, reports an article on BleacherReport.com.
Plus, the nickname is also a reference to Messi’s short stature. Lionel is only 5’7, making him one of the shortest forwards in soccer at the moment. Argentina’s most famous soccer player of all times, Diego Maradona, is 5’5.
He could’ve led Spain to the finals in the 2014 World Cup
Messi was the reason Argentina’s national team reached the finals in the World Soccer Cup in 2014, reports FIFA’s official website. He’s also led his team to victories in the 2008 Summer Olympics and to the finals in the 2007 Copa América.
But long before Messi became Argentina’s captain, he was offered a place in Spain’s national team.
He turned it down, probably because he was eventually hoping to be part of Argentina’s national team.
Messi’s first contract was signed on a paper napkin
It came when Messi was just 13, according to FIFA.com. He had such a strong game that Barcelona’s sporting director at the time wanted to secure his place in the team right away. And since they had no other paper on hand to make it official, signatures were placed on a napkin.
The signed contract (which was perfectly valid despite the unusual way it was handled) allowed Messi and his family to Spain. There, he was treated for a growth hormone deficiency condition that had been plaguing him since early childhood – something his family couldn’t afford to address in Argentina because the treatment cost $900 a month.
He hasn’t done too badly in the finances department
According to an article in Forbes, Messi is the second richest soccer player in the world, right after Cristiano Ronaldo. Messi has a net worth of over $180 million, which comes not only from his contract with Barcelona, but also from a number of sponsorships.
For example, Messi earned $65 million in 2013 alone, according to Forbes.
Part of that money comes from a number of commercials, including a 2012 commercial for the Japanese face wash Scalp-D and a Gillette advertisement alongside tennis star Roger Federer. Messi also appeared with other football players in a TV commercial for Samsung.
Messi’s formal buy-out clause for Barcelona is set at €250 million (approximately $318 million USD).
Even though he got in a little trouble for tax evasion
Messi’s father – who acts as the footballer’s agent and representative – was accused in 2013 of owing Spanish income tax in the amount of €4.165 million, the BBC reports. This money, which accounted for taxes owed between 2007 and 2009, was eventually paid off in 2013, but the courts weren’t satisfied.
By then, a Barcelona court had decided the younger Messi was in on the evasion. Rather than just being satisfied with the money paid (which included penalties and interest), the court decided both parent and son would stand trial for their act. The trial is set to start in the fall of 2014.
Messi has appeared in several TV commercials
Many of Messi’s commercial and sponsorships never make it to the US and are only shown on TV channels abroad. This was the case for a 2012 series of commercials Messi shot alongside NBA star Kobe Bryant. The two pros battle it out for the attention of a young fan by showing off their skills with the ball.
The commercials are for Turkish Airlines and some are filmed onboard a plane, according to TA’s official website.
Messi’s foot is worth its weight in gold — literally
In 2013, a Japanese jeweller designed a solid gold, 55-lb. replica of Messi’s left foot, according to an article on CNN. A very realistic replica at that, complete with blood vessels, lines on the skin, and tiny wrinkles on the sole of the foot and under the toes.
The sculpture was created using a cast – which Messi sat for willingly – in an effort to raise funds for the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami.
The gold foot sold for $5.25 million and also inspired a series of 50 limited edition Messi footprint plates. These are also gold and went on sale for over $90,000 each.
Messi has a strong connection to Europe
According to El Mundo Deportivo, a major Spanish-language newspaper, Messi’s ancestors are Italian. His great grandfather, Angelo Messi, arrived in Argentina in 1883 after leaving Ancona, Italy in search of a better future.
Despite this, Messi never pursued Italian citizenship. Instead, he has Spanish citizenship since 2005.
Messi has broken a few records
In fact, he made it into the Guinness Book of World Records in 2012 as the player with the most goals scored in a single year — a whopping 91.
He’s also broken a few other records, including the most international goals in a calendar year (25 goals), the most goals scored in a club season in Europe (73), and the only player to win the Golden Boot, the FIFA World Player and the Balloon d”Or in the same year.
He Has His Own Charity
Messi established his own charity, Fundacion Leo Messi, in 2010, according to its official website. Its goal is to provide health care and education support to poor and vulnerable children.
While the foundation offers help in a number of areas, its main focus is to help Argentinian children with complex health issues get to Spain, where they can receive the appropriate treatment. This is exactly what Messi’s parents did for him when he was a teenager — and it certainly paid off.
He Almost Broke Facebook.
Well, not quite. But when his official Facebook page went live in May 2014, everybody rushed to “Like” it, an article in The Daily Star reports.
Just a few hours after it went live, the page already had six million fans.